Review of the MOTU 828 MK2 by TweakHeadz Lab
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Pros
  • Tons of i/o at a very friendly price
  • Good sounding Mic Pres
  • Firewire!
  • Included MIDI i/o
  • Complex monitor routings are easily attainable with CueMix
  • Solid drivers

Cons

  • Small knobs are hard to manipulate

for Mac OSX

MOTU Stuff at zZounds

Review of the MOTU 828 MK2

A bang for the buck Audio Interface

Info

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 828MKII Firewire 24/96 Audio Interface (Macintosh and Windows)

MOTU 828mkII Page at www.motu.com
 

History of What U Get

The MOTU 828 series started with the original 828 and was announced in January of 2001.  It was  the first Firewire audio interface on the market.  MOTU clearly had a winner on their hands.  Some of the killer features of the MOTU 828 (which are still all present in the Mk 2 version) are:

  • 8  analog i/o
  • 2 Monitor/Main outs
  • 8 ch ADAT i/o (can also be used as s/pdif optical)
  • ADAT sync
  • stereo s/pdif coaxial i/o (rca)
  • Mic/line in (Neutrik combo XLR/TRS)
  • front panel headphone out

Wow, that by itself is a LOT of i/o. The original 828 had a maximum sample rate of 48kHz and had no display.  In May of 2003 the 828Mk2 arrived.  Motu kept the price the same but added even more features.  In addition to the features listed above MOTU added:

  • a backlit display
  • Front panel programming
  • Moved the Mic/line jacks to the front panel for easier access and added a switch for 48v phantom power.
  • Added two rear panel sends from the Mic/line in to allow inserting a compressor between the send and other line inputs. 
  • additional Firewire port
  • SMPTE sync
  • Added front panel metering for all analog inputs, s/pdif and mic inputs and main outs
  • Boosted the maximum sample rate from 48kHz to 96 Khz
  •  MIDI i/o

Now that is studio power. All in one rack space. Added together you get 20 inputs and 22 outputs.

Double click for larger images

What you can Do

And there is more.  You get a software control panel, called Cue Mix which lets you set the front panel controls from the computer (a good thing too, because the knobs are small on the front panel) Mac users also get an application called AudioDesk2 which is a software multi track recorder with plenty of features.  (Windows users do not get this application as of this writing). 

So what do you need to do?  Connect condenser mics? Covered.  Guitars?  Covered. Route to an 8 bus analog console? Cinch.  Connect to a Digital Mixer with Adat i/o?  Probably No Prob. (i.e., I didn't try it).  Connect to ADAT?  It's designed to. Stream in/out 8 channels of audio from another computer with ADAT?  Oh yes! Connect studio monitors?  Done.  Use as a stand-alone Mixer?  You got it.  All of this for a box that lists for $795.  That is way below the Digi 002 rack which has fewer features. More than a Delta 1010, but you get a lot more features

Pic of Motu's CueMix Software Control Panel

 In Use

I am using the 828mk2 with a Mac G5 1.8 dual on Mac OS X 10.3.2.  It sounds very good and the latency is low.  I still haven't tried to find the lower end of its softsynth latency yet and haven't needed to.  The Mic preamps are clear and clean and don't mess with the signal. I was quite pleasantly surprised here.  I've managed to use Cue mix while recording in Logic to set up a latency free monitor mix for the headphone jack, so the vocalist can get their own tailored mix in the cans without affecting my main board or software mix. You simply go out your board's sub outs through Logic input objects to some MOTU inputs and balance that with the Mic signal in the headphone mix.  Sound complicated? Not when you know what you are doing :)

Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 828mk3 Firewire Audio Interface
Tweak: The 828mk2 was replaced by the 828mk3 in 2008

Complicated setups are easy to manage.  Using the ADAT i/o I have my PC's Emu 1820M connected to the 828mk 2 via ADAT and Word Clock.  I can send all 8 channels from the PC from Sonar or Cubase or Emulator X straight into the 828mk2 and to Logic in real time.  All you need are 3 cables to make this happen.

Another configuration is the ADAT to a Behringer ADA8000 to give you 18 analog outs that can be routed to a large mixer.  Those of you with a big board who want to do analog mixes this is probably one of the most cost effective ways to do it.

Issues?

I don't find any showstopper problems with the 828Mk2. The few that there were when G5s were first released have long been squashed.

Finally, a small point perhaps, but worth mentioning, the pic on MOTU's site shows a blue display with what appears to be a moving bar graph.  That does not exist on my unit.  The display is green and the there is only a static and crude representation of faders.  While this is minor I found it disturbing.  I've written MOTU; thinking I had an older unit.  They wrote me back the next day saying that the blue display was in a beta version and was not a real time display. The final release has the green display that I have. 

One more thing about MOTU.  The day Tiger was released they had an update on their site for the MOTU firewire audio interfaces.  Stuff like that makes me a happy customer.

Conclusion

I was originally torn between getting a Digi 002 Rack or a MOTU 828 Mk2.  The 002R comes with quite a software bundle, in addition to the other strengths of the 002.  If you are stuck in this decision quagmire, good luck!  I am not sure exactly how I decided this one but in the end I felt the 828Mk2 might be better for Logic and the meters and lower price conspired to win it for MOTU. Boy am I glad I did my research.  Users with the digi002 in "core audio" mode using Logic are less than thrilled.  The 002 is designed for ProTools LE and that is what you should run with it, not Logic or Cubase.

After a year and a half Update: I have used the 828mk2 extensively with both Logic Pro 6 and 7 and Cubase SX 3 on my Mac G5.  I am still happy with it.  No troubles at all.  And I am thrilled to have my PC streaming audio into my Mac in the digital domain of ADAT.

I have not yet tested the 828mk2 drivers on my PC (if I do I will update this article). There are many users on studio-central that have reported good results with Win XP machines.  For the Mac I have no trouble recommending this audio interface as a great way to go.   It works great with G4 and G5 machines, and overall is an excellent value.  It won a TEC award in 2004 and its' easy to see why. 

 

Tweak

Updated Jan 2008

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MOTU 896MK3 Review
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